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Climate carnage beyond imagination

17 April 2023, Impact of Our Work, Climate

A third of the country underwater – it’s an image of Pakistan I’ll never forget

Mala Darmadi, a member of Save the Children Australia Media Team, visited Pakistan in the wake of the worst floods in the country’s history. Here she gives a first-hand account of what it is like to experience devastation on this scale. 

As a journalist, I have covered my fair share of disasters, but nothing could have fully prepared me for what I saw travelling through flood affected Pakistan with Save the Children in late 2022. 

Every news article that was published on the disaster said a third of the country was submerged under flood waters, but it wasn’t until I was driving through the south of Pakistan, through broken roads and flooded plains, with the sight of devastation going on as far as the eye could see, that I truly understood the magnitude of the disaster and the growing impact of climate change on children. 

These unprecedented floods and the torrential rains that caused them are attributed to worsening weather patterns due to the climate crisis, with Pakistan ranked as one of the most vulnerable countries to the harmful impacts of climate change.

Kilometre after kilometre, thousands of families were sheltering on the roadside between plastic sheets that barely provided any protection. Hectares of crops, decimated.

Mala Darmadi

After eight hours of driving, in our second attempt to reach the distribution site, we were able to meet with our delivery partners. I wrapped my scarf over my head and walked over to the women and children’s waiting area, which was a solitary meeting house, surrounded by destroyed homes and rubble, but somehow it had managed to withstand serious damage.  

We sat down on a dusty mat and spoke with the women and their children about what they went through, how they were feeling and what was going on through their minds, my colleague from Pakistan sitting there with me, translating story after story.  

Zainab’s story 

One woman I’ll never forget is Zainab, a 52-year-old mother of seven. She was at the distribution centre with two of her daughters, 12-year-old Alisha and 14-year-old Shazadi. 

Despite the overwhelming heat from the sun, made worse by the reflections on the stagnant flood waters, Alisha clung onto her mother – who told me that her daughter was diagnosed with polio and now lives with a disability.

Zainab with daughters at Save the Children’s aid distribution centre. 
Photo: Mala Darmadi/Save the Children.

Zainab’s husband had died some years earlier from cancer and had left Zainab and her children with the house. But the floods took away what little they did have, and the house was completely destroyed. She and her family were left with nothing but the clothes on their back when they escaped the flooding. 

My husband left that house for us, we had no means of income, no food, or sufficient supplies to live a decent life but at least we had shelter. But now we don’t even have that.

Zainab, mother of seven children

We spoke to Zainab for a while, listening to her story. Soon after we were ushered to another area where thanks to our donors, Save the Children along with our partners had organised relief packages for families like Zainab’s. 

These relief packages included temporary shelter kits, basic foods like rice and flour, as well as cooking utensils and female hygiene packs. 

Crisis of millions 

Zainab and her children are among the 32 million people in Pakistan whose lives were devastated by these unprecedented floods, which left 8 million people homeless and were described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “climate carnage beyond imagination.”

Even some months on, the UN has described the situation as an ‘ongoing nightmare’ for millions of children- for while the intense heat may have left when I did, what replaced it is a bitter cold winter. 

The floods in Pakistan shattered the lives of at least 16 million children, and those who did manage to survive lost so much in the process, housing, shelter, access to clean water and education, including Zainab and her children.

Houses badly damaged by the floods in Sindh Province, Pakistan.
Photo: Mala Damadi/Save the Children.

Pakistan’s government estimates it will need over US$16 billion to build back flood-affected communities in a climate-resilient way, but while there have been some funding commitments, including from Australia, the total so far is not enough.

These funds are vital, not only to help those affected recover now, but also to limit the cost to Pakistan in terms of loss of life, destruction of homes and livelihoods, and damage to the national economy from future disasters and slow onset climate changes.

While it’s been some months since my return from Pakistan, I will never forget the devastation I saw and the resilience and determination of flood affected communities. Witnessing the strength and the work Save the Children along with partners were doing with communities there gave me hope. 

Seeing this work first-hand, made me grateful for the generous support of our donors who help make this vital relief work possible. But I also know, that we owe it to the people of Pakistan, we owe it to Zainab and her children to continue to advocate for climate justice. 

Mala Darmadi of Save the Children Australia Media Team on location in Pakistan. 
Photo: Save the Children. 

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